A new survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center, shows that about three-fourths of Americans see high preventive health benefits from the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, two-thirds believe there’s a low risk of side effects, and almost nine-tenths believe the overall benefits of the MMR inoculation outweigh the risks.
Despite debate about the safety of childhood vaccines among some groups in the public, most Americans (82%) support requiring children attending public school to be vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
Yet, several groups express concern about the safety of the MMR vaccine, including parents of young children. About half (52%) of parents with children under 5 say the risk of side effects from the MMR vaccine is low, while 43% say the risk of side effects is medium or high.
By comparison, 70% of those with no minor-age children say the risk of side effects is low, while 29% say the risk is medium or high.
As far as potential benefits, 60% of parents with children 4 or younger say the preventive health benefits of the MMR vaccine are high, compared with 75% of parents with school-age children (ages 5–17) and 76% of people with no children younger than 18.
“In addition to parents of young children, this analysis finds that adults under age 30, blacks, and people with lower knowledge about science topics see a higher risk of side effects or lower preventive health benefits from this vaccine,” said lead author and associate director of research Cary Funk. “Public health benefits from vaccines hinge on very high levels of immunization in the population, so it’s important to understand which groups hold reservations about the MMR vaccine,” Funk said.
The survey finds that public views of medical scientists and their research related to childhood vaccines are broadly positive, though mixed, regardless of parent status, race, ethnicity and experience using alternative medicine.
The data show there are some generational differences in these views, with adults younger than 30 less likely to see medical scientists in a positive light. People who are generally less knowledgeable about science are much less trusting of medical scientists and see higher risk and lower benefits from the MMR vaccine.
There are generational differences in views of the MMR vaccine and trust in medical scientists. Senior citizens support a school-based requirement for the MMR vaccine rather than leaving the decision up to parents by a margin of 90% to 8%, but only 77% of adults 18–29 support a school-based requirement and 21% of this group says parents should be able to decide not to have their children vaccinated even if that may create health risks for others.
Younger adults, 18–29, are also a bit less likely than older age groups to say medical scientists understand the health effects of childhood vaccines very well and to perceive strong consensus among medical scientists that the MMR vaccine is safe. Some 47% of adults ages 18 to 29 think the best evidence influences research findings on childhood vaccines most of the time, compared with 60% of those ages 65 and older.
People with higher family incomes ($75,000 or more) are more inclined than those with lower family incomes to see high health benefits and low risk of side effects from the MMR vaccine. Those with higher family incomes are especially strong in their support for a requirement that all children be vaccinated against MMR in order to attend public schools.